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Barnes, Pancho (22 July 1901–29 March 1975), airwoman, was born Florence Leontine Lowe in San Marino, California, the daughter of Thaddeus Lowe, Jr., and Florence Mae Dobbins. The uninhibited character of Barnes’s adult life contrasts sharply with the conventionality of her background and upbringing. Born into a wealthy California family and educated at several private and convent schools, she was married at the age of nineteen to the Anglican vicar of Pasadena, C. Rankin Barnes, in 1921, giving birth to her only child, William, the same year. The marriage was not successful and the couple quickly separated, although they did not divorce until 1941. The death of her mother in 1924 made Barnes financially independent, enabling her to embark upon a life of adventure. Capitalizing upon her childhood training as a horsewoman, she obtained work as a double for several Hollywood actors in horseback scenes, as well as providing occasional screenwriting assistance to her childhood friend ...

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Janet Bragg. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (79-13664).

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Bragg, Janet (24 March 1907–11 April 1993), aviator, nurse, and nursing home proprietor, was born Janet Harmon in Griffin, Georgia, the daughter of Cordia Batts Harmon and Samuel Harmon, a brick contractor. The Batts family had long been established in Griffin. Bragg's maternal grandfather was a freed slave of Spanish descent, and her maternal grandmother was a Cherokee. Bragg's grandfather had built the house in which she and her siblings were born; her mother had been born in the same house. Bragg, the youngest of seven children, had a happy childhood, enjoying sports and games and excelling at school. In an interview conducted at the University of Arizona as part of a project called African Americans in Aviation in Arizona, Bragg reminisced: “We were a very happy family. We were not a rich family, only rich in love.”...

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Willa Brown. Shown wearing a padded flight suit. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (90-13119).

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Brown, Willa (22 January 1906–18 July 1992), pilot and aviation educator, was born Willa Beatrice Brown in Glasgow, Kentucky, the only daughter of Hallie Mae Carpenter Brown and Eric B. Brown, a farm owner. After 1910 the family, as part of the internal migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities, moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, hoping for greater opportunities in employment and education. There her father worked in a creosote factory; he was also pastor of the Holy Triumphant Church in 1920 and the Free Church of God in 1929....

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Jacqueline Cochran Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105221).

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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Constance Porter Uzelac

Coleman, Bessie (26 January 1892–30 April 1926), aviator, was born Elizabeth Coleman in Atlanta, Texas, the daughter of George Coleman, a day laborer of predominately Indian descent, and Susan (maiden name unknown), an African-American domestic and farmworker. While Bessie was still very young, the family moved to Waxahachie, Texas, where they built a three-room house on a quarter-acre of land. She was seven when her father left his family to return to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Coleman household was Baptist, and Bessie was an avid reader who became particularly interested in ...

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Amelia Earhart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112514).

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Earhart, Amelia Mary (24 July 1897– July 1937), aviator, was born in Atchison, Kansas, the daughter of Edwin Stanton Earhart, a railroad clerk and lawyer, and Amy Otis. Earhart spent her early childhood living with her affluent grandparents in Atchison during the school year and her parents in Kansas City in the summer. A tomboy during her youth, Earhart was a leader of childhood games in her neighborhood. Her father was handsome and loving but drifted through low-paying clerk jobs and was dependent on his wife’s family for sufficient living expenses. Following the deaths of Earhart’s grandparents, the Earharts’ inheritance was put in a trust for twenty years, driving her father to despair and drink. Family life deteriorated during her teenage years as her father battled alcoholism and worked sporadically throughout the Midwest, moving his family to a series of low-rent homes....

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Lindbergh, Anne Morrow (22 June 1906–07 February 2001), author and aviator, was born Anne Spencer Morrow in Englewood, New Jersey, the second of the four children of Dwight W. Morrow, an investment banker, senator, and diplomat, and Elizabeth Reeve Cutter, a civic leader and advocate for women's education. Dwight Morrow's work took him to many European capitals, and his children often traveled with him. Anne's formal education was at Miss Chapin's School in Manhattan and Smith College, where she received awards for her poetry and essays. Intelligent and extremely observant, Anne was also shy, emotional, and self-critical. She began keeping a diary in her early teens and later characterized herself as someone for whom “an experience was not finished until it was written or shared in conversation” (...

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Love, Nancy (14 February 1914–22 October 1976), aviator and government official, was born Hannah Lincoln Harkness in Houghton, Michigan, to Robert Bruce Harkness, a successful medical doctor, and Alice Graham Chadbourne Harkness. Nicknamed Nancy by her family, she graduated from Milton Academy in Massachusetts and then enrolled in Vassar College in 1931. She withdrew from Vassar in 1934, however, as her parents could no longer afford the tuition because of the Great Depression....

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Ruth Nichols Meeting with federal and civil aviation officers in Washington, D.C, 1929. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97333).

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Nichols, Ruth Rowland (23 February 1901–25 September 1960), aviation pioneer, was born in New York City, the daughter of Erickson Norman Nichols and Edith Corlis Haines. Nichols’s father was a member of the New York Stock Exchange and sent his daughter to exclusive private schools. She graduated from Miss Masters’ School at Dobbs Ferry, New York, and from Wellesley College in 1924. An average student, Nichols was interested in athletics and other strenuous activities. She was encouraged in these endeavors by her father, who had an adventurous spirit himself, having joined the Rough Riders under ...

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Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie Powdering her nose after winning the National Air Race Transcontinental Sweepstakes Handicap Derby, 1931. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97332).

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Omlie, Phoebe Jane Fairgrave (21 November 1902–17 July 1975), aviator, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of Andrew Fairgrave and Madge Traistor (or Traister). Phoebe Fairgrave graduated from Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1920 and began work as a stenographer in a downtown business office. Within weeks she made a decision that would determine the course of her life: she wanted to earn a living in the aviation business. To begin this venture, she visited the Curtiss Northwest Company at a St. Paul airfield, which was offering civilian flight training in a surplus Curtiss JN-4D Jenny, and asked for her first airplane ride. Reluctant pilots laughed and walked away, until one agreed to take her up. Encouraged by his friends to shake her up a bit, the pilot instead succeeded in further whetting her appetite for flying. She promptly bought the aircraft with a $3,500 inheritance from her grandfather and began to learn the art of parachute jumping, reasoning that this was her best avenue into aviation. Aerial barnstorming acts were the most visible aviation business and about the only one open to women. Her first jump was made on 17 April 1921, and only three months later, on 10 July, she set a women’s altitude record by jumping from 15,200 feet. With stunt pilot Glenn Messer, she established the Fairgrave and Messer Flying Circus and learned a repertoire of aerial acts, including wingwalking, trapeze work from the wings and landing gear, double parachute jumps (cutting away the first parachute, freefalling, and opening a second chute), and air-to-air and ground-to-air transfers. Stunt work for the movies included a part in ...

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Quimby, Harriet N. (11 May 1875–01 July 1912), aviator and journalist, was born in Arcadia Township, Manistee County, Michigan, the daughter of William Quimby and Ursula Cook Quimby, farmers. Her full middle name is unknown. The youngest known child of a disabled Civil War veteran and a medicinal herbalist, in adulthood Quimby let it be thought that she had been born in 1885 in California and educated in Europe by wealthy parents. It has also been reported that Quimby was born in Coldwater, Branch County, Michigan, the younger of two daughters. However, Quimby's parents moved from Branch to Manistee County in 1867 with older children, two of whom died before Harriet's birth and one shortly thereafter. By 1880 only Harriet and one older sister survived. No education records have been found, although residents' recollections indicated that Quimby attended the local public school in Arcadia....

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Stinson, Katherine (14 February 1891–08 July 1977), aviation pioneer, was born in Fort Payne, Alabama, the daughter of Edward Anderson Stinson and Emma Beavers, farmers. An enthusiast of aviation early in life, Stinson learned to fly from pioneering flyer Max Lillie at Cicero Field near Chicago, obtaining the fourth pilot’s license issued to a woman on 19 July 1912. Her younger siblings—Marjorie, who ran a flying school; Eddie, who founded the Stinson Aviation Company; and Jack, an aircraft technician—followed her aviation dreams and also achieved fame in the profession....

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Katherine Stinson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107596).